African Studies: A Year in Review

By Kyra Fox

Spring has finally arrived in Madison, and with it, the end of another great year for the African Studies Program. As we look back on the 2017-18 school year, we celebrate the faculty, students, staff, and community members whose continuous dedication and achievements allow the study of Africa at UW-Madison to grow and thrive.

SCHOLARSHIP: Highlighting a diversity of Africanist research

Grant Harris and Steve Wallace present to the African Studies community. (Photo by Kyra Fox / UW-Madison)

Long a gathering place for Africanists scholars around the world, the African Studies Program continued its history of welcoming the field’s best and brightest this year. Thirty-four scholars from eight countries of origin, 18 universities, and 17 academic disciplines presented their research at African Studies Program events. The Africa at Noon lecture series, ongoing since 1973, featured weekly talks on topics ranging from politics of the equatorial Grey Parrot to Africa’s first failed asylum seeker.  Grant Harris, former senior advisor on Africa to President Obama, spoke to the African Studies community about why Africa matters to U.S. national security, and the challenges facing the new administration. Steve Wallace, founder and president of the Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company, discussed the challenges and rewards of entrepreneurship in Ghana.

 FACULTY: Supporting outstanding research and teaching

African Studies Program faculty continued a tradition of excellence in the 2017-2018 school year. Scott Straus won the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order for his book Making and Unmaking Nations: War, Leadership, and Genocide in Modern Africa. Straus was also named to a Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professorship for outstanding scholarship, teaching, and service. Gregg Mitman won a 2018 Academy Fellows Award from the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters. After publishing her first book on popular intellectuals in postcolonial Tanzania, Emily Callaci won a summer stipend award from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Callaci, along with African Studies faculty Samuel England and Rebecca Larson, received tenure. The African Studies Program also recognizes the contributions of five outstanding long-time faculty members who will retire this spring: Aliko Songolo, Michael Schatzberg, Jo Ellen Fair, Jim Delehanty, and Dustin Cowell. Together, these five faculty members provided over 150 years of African studies instruction to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

ALUMNI: Connecting the campus to the world

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks with high school and middle school students and educators who participate in the award-winning PEOPLE program, which offers pre-college preparation to students of color and low-income students, many of whom will be the first in their families to attend college. (Photo by Catherine A. Reiland/UW-Madison)

A number of distinguished Africanist alumni returned to campus this year to give back to the African Studies community. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who began her career as a scholar of Africa at UW-Madison, will receive an honorary doctoral degree at commencement this Friday. Thomas-Greenfield, who has been lauded as “one of the most dynamic and effective diplomats of her time,” will also speak at the joint African Studies and Political Science commencement celebration. In October, the African Studies Program convened the first annual “Africanists at Work,” where alumni from around the world spoke with undergraduates about building Africa-focused careers. Distinguished alumni guests included J. Stephen Morrison, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Catherine Thompson, program director at the Peace and Security Funders Group; Ambassador (Ret.) John E. Lange, senior fellow for global health diplomacy at the United Nations Foundation; Leslie Zelenko, legislative assistant to Rep. Mark Pocan; and Tony Carroll, corporate lawyer and business advisor in international trade and investment. And this past April, more than 20 alumni returned to campus to attend and present at the African Studies Program annual conference, Honoring Ancestors in Africa.

STUDENTS: Creating opportunities for aspiring Africanists

This past academic year was a groundbreaking one for cultivating Africa-based opportunities for students. The African Studies Program, in partnership with the International Internship Program, announced four new internships on the continent. Professor Maggie Hawkins facilitated a partnership with The Fortress in Uganda to host for UW-Madison interns.  An internship at Business Day Ghana was cultivated through a partnership with 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow Rebekah Awuah. This summer, 11 undergraduate interns will head to all corners of the continent for internships, with Uganda rising to the #3 destination for undergraduate interns at UW-Madison. A number of graduate students will also travel to the continent this summer with the support of the African Studies Program. Students will head to Nigeria, Tanzania, Malawi, Liberia, Morocco, Mozambique, and South Africa with Foreign Language & Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships. Kate Carter, Diana Famakinwa, and Olesegun Soetan will conduct field research with African Studies Program summer fieldwork awards. Irene Tombo and Olayinka Olagebi-Adegbite will participate in pre-dissertation travel and international internships through Scott Kloeck-Jenson Fellowships.

OUTREACH: Extending our reach into the community

Students show their skills from a West African drum and dance workshop taught by Limanya Drum & Dance Ensemble at Day in Africa. (Photo by Lauren Parnell-Marino / UW-Madison)

More than 8000 people were reached by African Studies programming this past year. Our outreach scholars visited schools across the state to share their expertise and experiences with students. Day in Africa brought more than 300 high school students and teachers from across the state to UW-Madison, where they got a taste of Wisconsin’s rich African Studies community. In addition, the African Studies outreach program launched a new discovery boxes initiative. Curated by African Studies students in the field, these thematic boxes contain objects related to activities, cultures, and traditions across the continent. Powered by the Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Seed Project Grant, discovery boxes were sent to schools across the state of Wisconsin as a free lending resource to educators teaching about various aspects of land and life in Africa.

ANNUAL CONFERENCE: Honoring ancestors in Africa

Throughout this year’s programming, African Studies students and faculty meditated on the theme of honoring the ancestors in Africa. Envisioned by Professor Henry Drewal, this year’s theme manifested in a dazzling multi-sensiorial exhibit at the Ruth Davis Design Gallery entitled “Whirling Return of the Ancestors: Egúngún Arts of the Yorùbá in Africa and Beyond.” The exhibit, curated by students in Drewal’s course and drawing 2000 visitors, featured the sights, sounds, and motions that the Yorùbá people use to honor the departed. The exhibit led into the African Studies Program’s annual conference, “Honoring Ancestors in Africa and Beyond: Arts and Actions.” More than 15 campus units collaborated to feature examples of arts and actions from Africa and the Diaspora. A performance by Egúngún masqueraders from the Oyotunji African Village in South Carolina captivated conference-goers, and a dance party featuring Afro-Peruvian beats capped off the sensational weekend.

WHAT’S NEXT? Continuing partnerships with young African leaders

Kenyan Fellow Jerono Odhiambo provides traditional Maasai face painting at the 2017 Mandela Washington Fellows’ mini-conference, titled “Redefining the African Narrative.” (Photo by Meagan Doll / UW-Madison)

This summer, the African Studies Program will again host the Mandela Washington Fellowship, the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative. The Mandela Washington Fellowship brings 700 leaders from sub-Saharan Africa to US universities for academic discussion, leadership training, and community engagement. This year’s 25 UW-Madison Fellows will represent 16 different countries and a wide range of fields. Over six weeks, they will participate in a public management and leadership institute facilitated by Wisconsin’s accredited scholars and professionals, and participate in various site visits to government entities, non-profits, businesses and other organizations around the state. At the end of the summer, they will host an on-campus conference open to the public. To learn more or get involved with this year’s Mandela Washington Fellowship, visit our website.